Unleash the Power of Your People

I have been around long enough to see buzz-words come and go. Now as it turns out I’ve been around long enough to see some of them that came and went come back again. 

 

One of those words is empowerment. 

 

A couple of decades ago it was said that the Boomer Generation wanted to be empowered to think for themselves and make some decisions. They wanted to feel as if they mattered. They needed to know that their thoughts and opinions carried a little weight….even at their places of employment. 

 

Consultants blanketed companies sharing this wisdom with anyone who would listen. (and pay for it) The business leaders of the day quickly adopted this word as a kind of cure-all for whatever was ailing their organization. 

 

The word hung around for a long time; until people figured out that telling someone they were empowered and actually empowering them were two very different things. 

 

The word faded a bit from prominence but never went away completely. Some organizations were actually successful in empowering their people. For most however it was more of a rallying cry than an actual business strategy. 

 

With all of the “what do Millennials want” research going on the empowerment word is again buzzing about organizations like bees in a flower garden. The research seems to show that one of the key strategies to engage the Millennial generation is to empower them. 

 

So here we go again. Or do we? 

 

My own, albeit somewhat limited, experience with Millennials tells me that they won’t be fooled by mere words. They don’t just want to be empowered, they need to be empowered. They need to matter, they need to make a difference. 

 

If they are not challenged and given the opportunity to grow at the job they have then they will find another place to work. A place that will challenge and empower them. There may not have been plentiful opportunities for Boomers to change jobs 20 years ago but there are tons of opportunities today. If your Millennial employees are not challenged and empowered, for real, they will simply leave.

 

Companies may have been able to get away with talking empowerment in the past but these days they have to actually empower their people. 

 

Empowerment is authorizing a person to think. It is allowing them to take action, control work and make decisions about their job in autonomous, self-directed ways. It is feeling self-empowered to take control of one’s own destiny.

 

If your people have to wait for permission, authority or approval to take action then you may be saying they are empowered but they are not. They absolutely are not. 

 

The reason empowering cultures fail at most organizations is that empowering people comes with a level of risk that most leaders are not willing to accept. I think they figure that because it’s their rear-end on the line that they should be making the decisions. 

 

That’s understandable but it is also a managerial mindset, not a leadership mindset. 

 

Authentic Leaders allow their people to take measured risk. They don’t let their people take crazy chances but they trust the people they hire enough to let them try new things. Even things that they as the leader wouldn’t have tried themselves. 

 

Authentic Leaders let their people think. They know that if everyone is thinking just like them then they aren’t really thinking at all. You must allow and even encourage your people to share their ideas without fear of criticism or consequences. The moment one of your people hesitates to speak up or share an idea is the same moment that empowerment stops. 

 

Authentic Leaders allow their people to make decisions. Even decisions they know are probably wrong. They won’t let them make millions dollar mistakes.  But they know letting them mess up decisions that could cost the company some money can be some of the most cost effective training they will ever receive. 

 

If you’re hiring good people then unleash the power of those people by truly empowering them.  Let them take some risks, let them think and let them make some decisions on their own, even some big decisions from time to time. 


A couple of decades ago companies could get away with talking about empowerment. That won’t work today. If you refuse to empower tomorrow’s leaders today then you put the very life of your organization at risk. 

Leadership Runs Downhill

I am sometimes asked for my opinion on someone’s leadership ability. I usually qualify my answer by reminding the person asking that it really is just an opinion. I can make a highly educated guess but unless I am very familiar with the people the individual leads it really is just a guess. 

I can only provide a truly qualified answer if I understand the level and quality of influence the leader has on their people. Because more than anything else, leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership, is about people. 

I can observe a person’s judgment to provide insight into their leadership ability. I can listen to them as they talk about their vision for the organization and that also helps understand how they might lead. 

I can even watch as they interact with those that they lead to determine the level of interest they actually have in helping their people succeed. But without really knowing what difference they have made in the lives of those they lead, I can’t, and neither can anyone else, really form a complete opinion. 

To receive high “marks” as a leader they must have helped at least one of their people become a leader. No matter what else a leader has accomplished they have not completely succeeded as a leader unless they have built more leaders. Their leadership should run downhill to those they lead. They must transfer part of themselves into and onto their people to help them grow as leaders.

To determine the true effectiveness of a leader don’t look at the leader, look at the people they lead. That’s where you’ll discover all you need to know.

 

Today’s Biggest Leadership Challenge – Part One

Leadership challenges vary by organization. Big organizations have different leadership challenges than small ones. Mature organizations have outgrown some of the leadership challenges that persist in newer organizations. 

In general however this is the biggest leadership challenge facing all organizations today: finding tomorrow’s leaders.

No matter how effective a leader you may be, if you do not at least help find and develop your successor then you will not have completely succeeded as a leader. You may have accomplished great things as a leader but if your accomplishments do not outlast you then you will not be remembered as a great leader. 

The best and most likely way to ensure your accomplishments outlast your tenure as the leader is to develop the next generation of leadership within your organization. 

But that’s not as easy as it used to be for two main reasons.

The first reason is this: The average employee today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees is about half that. In fact, ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years.

There are many reasons for this job-hopping behavior but the biggest seems to be speedy career advancement. Job-hopping allows many younger employees the opportunity to “promote” themselves without the “dues paying” that older employees endured. 

This is NOT a knock on younger employees, they are every bit as committed, intelligent, and hard working as employees in any age group. They just (rightly) value life balance more than employees of older generations. 

But job-hopping also gives them a skewered view of what Authentic Servant Leadership, real leadership, looks like. They see “slivers” of leadership but not the whole picture. They simply don’t stay in any one place long enough to become well developed leaders because they don’t stay anyplace long enough to develop a mentored relationship with an Authentic Leader. The more career moves they make the more gaps they are likely to have in their leadership ability. 

Today’s leaders need to identify younger employees with leadership potential sooner and begin a mentoring relationship that will motivate them to see their potential where they are. Their personal motives are no different than any other generation; they NEED to know they matter and they need to know they can make a difference. 

Far, far more employees will leave the workforce in the next 15 years than will join it. Organizations hoping for future success are unlikely to achieve it without a strong mentoring program that encourages future leaders to stay where they are at. It doesn’t matter whether you lead a huge organization or a 5 person company, you will be impacted by the shrinking workforce. 

Don’t allow your organization to get behind the curve on this issue, put a mentoring program in place today.

In Part Two of “Today’s Biggest Leadership Challenge” we’ll look at the second issue hindering the development of future leaders, micro-managing. But for those of you who believe you are micro-managed don’t get your hopes up, you may be more responsible for this than you would like to admit.